Produced and directed in Salford by Pauline Harris
Rhoda Sydney Wade
Stan Daniel Kerr
Ron Ellis Hollins
We swoop into the lives of Rhoda, Stan and Ron as the action inter-cuts between three houses in the same street on a freezing, snowy day. When there's a power cut each person is faced with their worst fear.
A prize-winning innovative drama based on verbatim interviews with three elderly people, and in this new production performed by children.
The producer and writer have interviewed three elderly people over a period of time and woven their verbatim interviews into this fictional day. Through the interviews each person's worst fear emerged. This was not intentional, but as it echoed in each interview it informed the narrative organically, so that each character faces their worse fear.
Rhoda's story: on the eve of her 80th birthday party, Rhoda panics as the snow prevents her from going out, she's run out of cigarettes, she can't get hold of her family, she's worried for their safety in cars on the motorway, and then the phone cuts out. She's suffered panic attacks all her life. With an aneurism the size of a large orange, she's certain she's going to die before her birthday.
Stan locks and re-locks his door. To make sure. It's his biggest fear - not to be able to defend his wife. He's had seven heart attacks but he's not afraid. He used to fight like a bear but it seems as though someone, or kids, or people are trying to get in. First he thinks its kids throwing snowballs but it seems it's more sinister.
Since Ron's stroke, he lives alone in his wheelchair. He has many different carers, a different one comes at breakfast, another at lunch, and so on, each mealtime from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. when they put him to bed. They wheel him into the living room, and there he stays until they wheel him out again. But as the snow thickens, his carer is late. He can't get to the phone - it's out of reach, and as each meal time passes, he keeps waiting for a carer to arrive.
The rendition by children aims to explore the close links of elderly people and children; the vulnerability, simplicity, fragility, resilience.
The Startling Truths of Old World Sparrows is an astonishing depiction of advanced age, told in the exact words used by three pensioners living in one street, who were interviewed by producer and director Pauline Harris and dramatist Fiona Evans.
Around these vivid accounts of the accretion of grief, pain and vulnerability, recounted in criss-crossing monologues, Evans fashions a dramatic structure – snow bringing chaos and power cuts – that provides a catalyst for the characters to reveal their worst fears. The genius is in casting children to play them. The participants’ words take on shocking new resonances when spoken by these young voices.
Sydney Wade plays 80 year-old Rhoda, the disconnect delivering huge emotional impact. She reveals the death of a daughter, the sadness that she will leave her family and the fear that after death she will wake up in cold storage.
Scottish-accented Daniel Kerr, young and chirpy, creates moving bravado as Stan, who keeps a cricket bat to hand but admits that it is women he is scared of – as a child, he was required to lace his cruel, 30-stone mother into her corset.
Ellis Hollins plays wheelchair-bound Ron in a muted, downbeat performance. Heartbreakingly, he is abandoned by carers, finding succour in watching the sparrows.
I wish everyone would hear this play, but particularly the young and those in positions of authority, whose decisions so often condemn the elderly as worthless. . . .